Book review: 4 stars for Attack of the Kaiju: Age of Monsters (volume 1) anthology

Hey everyone!

Reviews are very important to authors, so after posting on Amazon/Goodreads/wherever, I like to repost here, along with a link to the product. Here’s my 4 star review of Attack of the Kaiju: Age of Monsters (Volume 1), an anthology edited by Matthew Dennion and Neil Riebe. If you buy it, be sure to leave a review, too!

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Attack of the Kaiju: Age of Monsters delivers exactly what the title promises. Within the pages lie 15 stories of giant, smashy, beat-em-up doomsday creatures, each ready to deliver varying degrees of mayhem. As with any anthology, some don’t quite measure up to the others, but there’s enough originality and variety here to attract fans of most genres, so long as there’s a large enough place in their interests for a rampaging megabeast.

Overall, the collection is pretty solid. There are occasionally distracting typos (most notably, a few instances of pluralized words being written with apostrophe-s), but Dennion and Riebe clearly put a lot of care and concern into their work. Several writers, including Dennion, have more than one story in this anthology. This can make some tales feel familiar to the others in terms of writing style, but in a niche genre like this, it makes sense to gather several stories from those that are guaranteed to deliver, rather than scour the earth for newcomers.

Here are individual contents, briefly overviewed:

The Odyssey of Draugr, by Matthew Dennion
A Frankenstein-style kaiju created by Nazi scientists goes on a more or less accidental rampage while looking for companionship. “Nazi experiment gone awry” may not be too original, but it’s one of the few stories, in this collection or otherwise, that I’ve seen feature character development for the beast itself. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a genre that typically depicts its namesakes as a bunch of mindless destroyers.

Hunting Grounds, by Breyden Halverson
Revenge is a dish best served wandering around in a swamp, looking for God-only-knows-what. A research mishap leads to a rapidly mutating kaiju set loose just outside of civilization, and one man’s thirst for blood over his wife’s disappearance may be the only thing preventing the creature from harming innocent people. A little jumpy with the POV, but satisfying in the end.

A Day at the Beach, by Cody Bratsch
Kaiju destruction meets social criticism when three friends take a fresh-out-of-rehab heroin addict on a day trip. While the dialog isn’t always believable, the story deals with the subject matter in an engaging, sensitive way, balancing the existential horror of two massive creatures rendering humans insignificant against the much quieter, personal dread of never full escaping one’s personal demons.

Goregod, by Robert Galvin
Blurring the lines between occultism and mad science, “Goregod” lives up to its name, unleashing all sorts of hell on any biological material nearby. From turning mortals into undead warriors, to resurrecting the skeleton of a long-dead dinosaur in a local museum, the kaiju in this story obeys no rules, and leaves no soul unscathed. Not for the faint of heart, or those who dislike weird/Lovecraftian fiction.

The Price of Violence, by Matthew Dennion
Returning for his second of three stories in this collection, this five-page story goes into the fantasy realm, focusing on a league of fairies trying to prevent a newborn dragon from destroying the land. Rife with ecocriticism and a vaguely solarpunk influence, “The Price of Violence” is very conscious of its place in this collection. However, a lot of ‘telling’ without much ‘showing’ leads to an overbearing moralism in the final moments, unfortunately diminishing the impact of an otherwise very original story.

Poseidon’s Wrath, by Breyden Halverson
A story featuring kaiju inspired by real mythological creatures, this tale focuses on a teenage anti-kaiju combat unit, since the kaiju let off radiation that destroys human immune systems, but this effect is diminished in the young. Ultimately, the protagonist, James, plays second fiddle to the brawl between Poseidon’s brood and a single beast of a far different nature–one that might not want to rule the seas, but protect them, instead.

Sky Horror, by Jesse Wilson
Another fantasy-style piece featuring a fledgling mage sent off to stop a mighty creature from ravaging the locals. The mage, Saziz, soon meets a guy named Bill, and in a story like this, an ordinary name can only mean trouble. There are some loose ends, and other matters that perhaps should’ve been addressed, but the writing itself is solid.

A Hard Day at the Office, by Timothy Price
One of the more unique stories here, if only because it’s set entirely in one man’s corner skyscraper corner office, overlooking the city as it comes to destruction. There’s a far more personal story here, as we’re limited to his thoughts, rather than given an overarching view of incredible destruction, but those who’ve come for carnage will still find the ending they’re looking for.

Massive, by Alex Dumitru
Fans of Ant-Man will love this story of a regular human being who, through science and a special suit the narrator doesn’t even pretend to understand, can grow to a “Massive” size, fighting the kaiju in a one-on-one grudge match. There’s a vague threat of something terrible happening if his suit’s battery runs out, but this is never full explained or capitalized, undercutting the tension. Still, reading about a human punching a hundreds-of-feet-tall monster in the face is an easy thing to love.

Four Horsemen, by Zach Cole
Though it draws from obvious source material, “Four Horsemen” is still a clever piece of kaiju fiction, with four beasts descending from asteroids to lay waste to Earth. When society appears destroyed, they turn on each other–and the survivor faces off against a human warrior, neurologically linked to a battle mech constructed from scrap metal. Anyone who wants a religiously-inspired Pacific Rim style story will get a kick out of this one.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Roof Top Ripper, by Matthew Dennion
For his third and final story here, Dennion gives us a story featuring The Great Detective against a creature that, by all accounts, shouldn’t still exist. Another tale of ecologically-inspired events, this one more subtle, it tracks an older, Waston-less Holmes as Scotland Yard calls on him one final time–to stop a series of murders that, according to all evidence and human limitations, shouldn’t be possible. It’s a slower story than the others, but necessarily so, considering the source material.

Christmas Wish, by Jesse Wilson
When a young boy makes a Christmas without thinking through the consequences, a giant red gorilla with a flaming skull appears to deliver havoc onto his little town. The only way to stop it is by summoning his hero, an Ice Dragon of mythic proportions, but all wishes come with consequences. It’s kaiju-meets-the-monkey’s-paw for this story, though the dialog isn’t always that natural.

Bringing of Chaos, by Breyden Halverson
A deranged older scientist resurrects a prehistoric kaiju, Tiamat, also known as Chaos, to essentially commit a monster-themed purge of society’s evils. Naturally, this doesn’t go according to plan, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s more than one massive creature lurking in the shadowy corners of the globe. The character development feels too fast, but there are some interesting twists and turns here.

The Criminal and the Kaiju, by Christofer Nigro
Drawing on his long-standing love of the genre, Nigro delivers a story full of varied, dynamic characters, swapping perspectives as needed to show his kaiju from every angle. Though this can get a little disorienting, it’s another human-becomes-god-sized piece, leading to a rather epic session of mano-a-mano action. The narration/word choice can get in the way of the pacing/tension, but it’s one of the harder-hitting stories here.

Noregon, the Blue Steel Kaiju, by Neil Riebe
In what’s apparently his first work of original fiction, Riebe delivers a novel premise: in a world full of giant monsters, a cabal of shadowy figures have learned to psychically control these beasts, using them to wage war instead of using their respective armed forces. While it never feels like Noregon’s actually in danger, this creature’s internal struggles fuel the plot quite well. Told from the beast’s perspective, this has the most kaiju character development of any story I’ve read in the genre, leading to the perfect ending for this unique collection.

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While you’re here, be sure to stomp on over to my Patreon for short stories, signed copies, and mystery gifts! 

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Book review: 5 stars for Teeth of the Sea, by Tim Waggoner

Hey everyone!

Reviews are very important to authors, so after posting on Amazon/Goodreads/wherever, I like to repost here, along with a link to the product. Here’s my 5 Star review of Teeth of the Seaby Tim Waggoner. If you buy it, be sure to leave a review yourself!

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Tim Waggoner’s Teeth of the Sea is exactly what you want from a sea monster novel. It starts off with a prologue from the creatures’ point of view, proceeds to a scenic introduction to the little island resort of Elysium, then immediately goes full throttle with violence, teeth, and blood everywhere. This is far from a book that uses gore for the sake thereof, though. Every death serves a purpose, whether distracting one of the Pliosaurs from eating the protagonists, to dragging the readers deeper into the story’s emotional waters.
There are quite a few characters to keep track of, but they’re all distinct enough that they don’t overlap (and several die within pages of their introduction). No reader is going to like every character, but there’s going to be someone in the main crew that you wind up rooting for. Besides, if everyone was the same likeable blob, it wouldn’t be as effective a narrative.

As far as action-oriented horror goes, the pacing is pretty solid. Some deride the scenes set from the monsters’ perspectives, but these do wonders for building the tension, especially when the human characters aren’t aware they’re in danger. One or two moments felt forced, yet remained effective in the end.

The monsters themselves are well-described, and fit perfectly for some subtler elements of the story. Let’s just say the bulletproof shell but a soft underbelly could metaphorically describe a few human characters, too. Likewise, two of the monsters, dubbed One-Eye and Brokejaw for their damaged anatomy, have interesting narrative counterparts. I personally had a few misgivings about the creatures’ anatomy, but recognize I’m a stickler for the science side of monsters, and don’t hold these against the writer.

While the ending has a slight feeling of “Haven’t we seen corporations make this mistake before?”, the book is overall an excellent read. Well-written, engaging, and funny without breaking the serious tone, it’s sure to make people think twice about their next island vacation. With Teeth of the Sea, Waggoner delivers a great reminder as to why he’s one of the more prolific horror writers out there today, and this particular book deserves a spot on the shelf of anybody who loves monster stories, but doesn’t plan to go out in the ocean anytime soon.

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New Book Review up @TheBoldMom: Ritualistic Human Sacrifice by C. V. Hunt

Hi everyone,

I recently finished Ritualistic Human Sacrifice by C. V. Hunt, published by Grindhouse Press, and have written a short review of the book at here at The Bold Mom. Don’t worry, it’s a work of fiction, not an instruction manual.

Also, yes, that’s a coat hanger pentagram surrounded by fetuses. Give the review a look! I promise I’m just as interesting as this cover.

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Feel free to also check out my Patreon for stories of my own!

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Review: You have no choice, because Chloe and Rachel have no chance

TLDR:

Overall–9.5/10

Graphics–8/10

Story–10/10

Action–9/10

Sass–11/10

 

SPOILER ALERTS for Life is Strange and Before the Storm

Every so often, a game or game franchise comes along that makes you say, “Oh damn,” then reevaluate your whole life. Life is Strange was one such game. The follow-up prequel story, Before the Storm, doesn’t have the same twists and turns, is such an endearing, compelling snapshot of the life of Chloe Price, who’s still reeling from her father’s death two years later, that it became an instant hit. Fans of the original and newcomers alike loved episode one–but many hated episode three for feeling like it rendered their choices irrelevant.

That’s part of what makes Before the Storm so great: You never had a chance, and your choices never mattered.

Given that Before the Storm is a prequel to the five-episode cult classic where Max Caulfield helps Chloe Price uncover the murder and hasty burial of Chloe’s girlfriend/arguable soul mate, this installment’s ending was obvious from the beginning. Of course it had to end the way it did. Whether you reunite Rachel with her birth mother, or help Chloe bridge the emotional divide between her and David, you never had even a slight possibility of really fixing any of their problems.

Why? Because you’re playing as a sixteen-year-old girl who’s trying to help a near-stranger (Rachel Amber) reconnect with her birth mother, avoid being murdered by a violent drug dealer, and keep Rachel’s mother from being murdered by that same drug dealer after her father paid him to kill said mother.

All this happens while Chloe is (potentially) expelled from school, while her mother’s overbearing boyfriend moves into their house and tries to exert authoritarian control over her, while dealing with the guilt of almost burning down the entire state of Oregon, and while assisting a low level dealer (Frank Bowers) in not ALSO getting murdered by the violent career criminal mentioned above.

Not to mention Chloe is still clearly dealing with severe PTSD and depression regarding her father’s death, and no one appears even remotely aware of the storm still ranging in her head. Mental illness, at the best of times, can be a crippling burden, bringing the most resilient and well-adjusted people to their knees.

Chloe, a teenager with no support structures, few friends (if any, really), and a slight drug problem (which I say only because pot’s still illegal in OR at the time of BTS), who is bullied at school by Victoria (and likely others), couldn’t have been expected to navigate the events of Before the Storm well on her own. The fact that she even SURVIVED is a miracle on par with Max’s ability to go back in time every six seconds to prevent saying something awkward during pretty much any given conversation.

So, despite that I, too, was disappointed by how restrictive the choices were throughout episode three, and the fact that the choices I made ultimately didn’t matter, that’s how Before the Storm had to end. Because you’re a sixteen-year-old freshly expelled from high school dealing with untreated mental illness, and that shit is god damn hard.

People go through less than her every single day, and not all of them make the right choices. Not all of their choices matter. Not all of them survive.

So yes, Life is Strange: Before the Storm ended with some stiff moments and unanswered questions (I still want to know how Rachel wound up involved with/taking semi-nude pictures for Frank), but that’s how it had to be. No teenager ever has full control over their life. Even less so, in a life full of drug dealers, schemers, and general criminal activity.

Chloe wasn’t trying to save the world, or even Arcadia Bay. Leave that to Max. Chloe just wanted to save Rachel, because she knew that was the only way to save herself. When Chloe found herself in a mental tempest, Rachel came along as the only ship to offer her a chance at keeping her head above water. Every action Chloe undertakes isn’t an attempt to calm the seas. She just wants to plug the holes threatening to sink her only boat. Rachel, likewise, isn’t trying to be a good person, or even keep Chloe afloat. She’s just trying to figure out why people keep lying to her, and what consequences the truth might bring.

So, in short, this is the one time I’ve played a visual story and felt it was actually good we didn’t have more choices. The fact that the ending locks Chloe into a specific path, beyond being necessary for original Life is Strange continuity, is the end result of her circumstances. She’s just a kid, fighting like hell against overwhelming odds to survive day-to-day existence, even though we, as the players, knew exactly that Before the Storm was leading to The Dark Room.

That’s why Deck Nine was right to not give us real choices: Chloe and Rachel never had a chance.

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#BookReview: Little Dead Things #Horror #Flashfiction @Fictisha

Note: I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

There’s an elegance and, more importantly, a punch to short fiction that often goes overlooked. Publication of an impactful novel, oft-toted as one of literature’s highest accomplishments, not to mention most prose writers’ major goal, drastically overshadows those who prefer their tales to be neatly surmised in just a few thousand words or less. Significantly less, in the case of drabbles, which can only be 100 words.

Jo-Anne Russell’s latest collection, Little Dead Things, is a 41-story collection of flash fiction, stories ranging from 100 word drabbles to just a couple pages. Illustrated by Jeffrey Kosh with a forward by Franklin E. Wales, this book is perfect for those who want a break from the long-haul of the fifty-thousand-plus-word stories others frequently celebrate. Whether this is because you’re short on time or you just prefer sprints to marathons, it’s sure to have a story that suits your speed.

Some stories stand out as being particularly well-written, combining the weird with the mundane in very unsettling ways. “The Apricot Poodle,” a drabble that I won’t describe, since describing something so short would necessitate spoilers, is one such story. “The Fun House” and “Loose Change” are great little jamais vu pieces, where reality shifts sideways and puts some truly odd events at the center of everyday life. Others, like “Mama,” are more psychological in nature, eschewing the weird for tales about ordinary people doing the sorts of things you’d see them getting arrests for on the 5 O’clock news. A few, like “Snake Eyes,” fall smack in the middle, serving as warnings about how regular human darkness might unleash a very different monster. “The Promised Land,” I’d argue, has great potential for another story, short or otherwise.

A few of these carry influence from other notable pop culture figures, such as “A Murder of Crows,” which channels some clear Hitchcock vibes. “Jabberwock Tea” is another one, and those thinking it’s an Alice and Wonderland piece won’t be disappointed (those who’ve wanted to read about zombies in A+W will be thoroughly delighted).

With a collection such as this, not all tales are going to stand out as winners. The presence of some of these far more engaging stories creates a wider, more obvious rift with those that fall short. I won’t specify the ones that didn’t quite measure up, as it’s entirely possible other readers will enjoy them, and I don’t want to discolor that perception ahead of time. While just as well-written, they aren’t quite as original or engaging as the others, and some of the truly unique and bizarre plotlines make these fall flat.

Overall, Little Dead Things lives up to its name, and horror fans are absolutely going to find stories they enjoy. It doesn’t matter if the readers want realistic horror or weird/supernatural showdowns, because these little bites make an overall great meal. As the name suggests, the stories are little and chock full of strange, mysterious, terrible deaths, so this collection is well worth the time. Whether you read it start to finish, or grab an afternoon coffee and knock a few out over your break at work, it’ll be worth the time and money.

#BookReview of Dargolla by @GodofThunder851 @SeveredPress

Massive monsters have always commanded our attention. Godzilla wasn’t the first beast to stomp its way into mainstream media, but since its arrival, the kaiju genre has flourished. While Hollywood has attempted to take on such stories through Pacific Rim and similar films, indie authors have brought the intensity of such huge creatures into very small perspectives.

In this case, Christofer Nigro explores the arrival of Dargolla, the kaiju for which the book is named, through the eyes of Colin Wilson, a young boy who’s grown up in the post-kaiju-arrival world. He lives in Metroville, a fictional city, with his family. Having grown up in a world where any given moment might be interrupted by a hundred-foot-tall monstrosity crushing the life out of everything that moves, he’s a little bit paranoid that one will show up and destroy his town.

That’s exactly what happens, but this is the basis for all good kaiju stories. From the ashes of society, a hero rises. More or less. Colin’s story is more about survival than heroism, a welcome change from the apparent mandate that the main character of such stories must become a super slayer of some kind. Dargolla, a burrowing, bellowing beast, makes short work of the many humans, buildings, military vehicles, and other signs of life that stand even remotely near its path of destruction.

Dargolla is a novella, meaning two things: it’s a quick, high-action read full of epic pulp violence, and each scene counts double. This makes the fact that the prologue is somewhat long stand out. While great for world building, the opening is packed full of details about the various types of kaiju that have torn up earth, where they’re believed to have come from, and what their arrival has done to the other earth species. In some respects, this is great foreshadowing, such as the mention of psionic/mutated humans, which sets up for two characters later on; in others, this feels unnecessary, such as the mention of “false kaiju” or mutated megafauna, neither of which show up. However, the ending does foreshadow a sequel, so it’s possible this was laying the groundwork for a larger story later on.

Perhaps one of the most effective elements of this story is how quickly destruction or death occurs. I don’t mean this as in, “Wow, it’s been an hour and the whole city is gone,” so much as that even major characters are wiped off the page in just a few sentences. In doing this, the writer uses form, rather than detail, to capture the shock and visceral gut-punch of sudden death. There’s no melodramatic lingering on someone’s final cry of pain, which happens in movies but not real life. The reader only fully registers the character’s death several sentences after the fact, perhaps even stopping to reread the passage just to be sure it actually happened.

This is balanced by a mechanical slowness in other areas. In some instances, the writing becomes clunky or even clinical in ways that don’t quite fit the scene. One instance refers to a woman’s eye as her “ocular organ,” which isn’t technically wrong, but provides an odd emotional distance consider the scene was told from the close third-person of a suburban housewife. Such technical details work really well in some areas, as it gives the story the feeling of a PTSD-ridden survivor’s account, where emotional distance is necessary to the teller’s ability to continue, but takes away from the action in other instances when it gets too detail oriented.

Along the path of destruction, this story provides a bevy of fun side characters, including several soldiers who call out to Odin and Thor rather than God, and a group of higher-ranked military men desperately attempting to play cards despite the constant kaiju-based interruptions. President Trump even makes an appearance, but as a reference—the fictitious version of #46 gets no actual dialogue, and the narration neither supports nor opposes his presidency, allowing the writer to lock the story in time while wisely staying away from political endorsement.

Overall, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a story of mayhem and carnage, where a young boy fights overwhelming odds to survive a kaiju attack and the generally fruitless military attempts to kill said kaiju. Plus, without spoiling it, I’ll say that there’s a twist in the ending that sets up for a very interesting new direction, should the writer continue the story.

Due to its length, Dargolla may feel like the introduction to a larger work, rather than a stand-alone piece, but fans of the kaiju genre—and anyone looking for a hundred and change stories of things exploding—is sure to enjoy this book.

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